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SpirE-Journal 2010 Q2

The Re-emergence of Snail Mail

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Snail Mail: No more the poorer cousin of eDM

Most readers of the Spire E-Journal would receive Direct Marketing messages via at least five distinct platforms – phone calls, email, short messages via mobile phone, street intercepts and physically mailed items, playfully dubbed “Snail Mail.”

It has long been a truism that Snail Mail is doomed to obsolescence at the hands of electronic direct marketing (eDM). Instead, however, it appears that Snail Mail is seeing a renaissance, driven by a surprising factor. Low costs have attracted hordes of marketers to engage in email and SMS marketing, resulting in a consumer backlash. In many cases, consumers now actively block incoming spam mail, or at the very least delete it quickly, according it minimal mindshare. This has opened the door to the reinvention of Snail Mail as a premium platform for offering highly targeted direct marketing collaterals, sometimes bundled together with statements from banks or utilities.

eDM and Snail Mail compared

While Snail Mail and eDM may appear to be polar opposites, both platforms have been influenced by similar trends in the way they are deployed.

Personalization – With the right data, both eDM and Snail Mail can be targeted at specific market segments, helping to increase the relevance of the material and consequently the response rates.
Lower cost per response – The result of the above is a lower cost per response compared to less targeted approaches, such as for example telephone direct marketing using general residential phone directories.
Measurability – Both Snail Mail and eDM allow tracking of response rates and consequently the return on investment on each campaign.
Confidentiality – Users of both eDM and Snail Mail can communicate their message to their specific customers or prospects without letting other customers and competitors know.

The two platforms also share some disadvantages:

Negative perception – Anyone who has an e-mail address and a mailbox will probably complain about being deluged by junk mail.
Short life span – Due to the above, both eDM and Snail Mail get opened over a trash-bin (literally and figuratively speaking). And even if they are not thrown away or deleted, they can be easily forgotten.

While there are commonalities, Snail Mail marketing is differentiated from its electronic cousin and offers certain benefits. These are:

The personal touch – Receiving a tangible, physical item such as a letter is usually experienced as a more personalized and involved form of outreach than receiving an email or SMS.
Additional tactile experience – A physical letter allows at least one extra sensory experience, namely the touch and feel of the paper, aside from the smell and sound in some cases.
Less intrusive – Snail Mail, unlike eDM, has a higher chance of getting read when the recipient is more relaxed, such as when they get home from work.

There are also some trade-offs inherent in using Snail Mail, such as:

Cost – Aside from postage costs, Snail Mail also involves material and printing expenditure. These can vary greatly depending on the design, the quality of material and printing to be used, as well as the number of elements (brochure, letter, reply envelope, etc).
Less tracking information – Snail Mail’s effectiveness can only be tracked in terms of the response rates, while eDM platforms can tell you the number of bouncing, deleted, unopened, or opened e-mails. Therefore, in Snail Mail, fewer clues are available to explain response rates and improve the next campaign.
Use of Paper: Snail Mail requires much paper and this can be seen as environmentally irresponsible (though in point of fact it need not be if the paper used is sustainably produced). However, in emerging countries, where environmental awareness and e-mail penetration is relatively low, this concern tends to have only a marginal impact.

In 2009, Snail Mail’s general volume declined as a result of the global financial crisis which hit heavy users of Snail Mail particularly hard, such as the financial, property, publishing and retail industries.

However, despite this decline, the overall quality of Snail Mail DM has seen an upward trend. Supported by advances in CRM infrastructure such as improved database quality, Snail Mail is now being used more intelligently.

Lisa Watson, Chairman of the Direct Marketing Association of Singapore notes that “Given the prevalence of digital relationships, it’s easier to collect data beyond just names and contacts, and this enables marketers to increase the customization and relevance of all communications, including Snail Mail.”

Watson also highlighted the integration of Snail Mail with eDM. “More and more, marketing campaigns are using a combination of Snail Mail and e-mail, along with other channels.” She mentioned that while above the line media raises awareness, Snail Mail pushes the readers to act, and eDMs gives them a platform to respond or even to make the purchase.

Given these t

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